Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why I want an ebook reader for Christmas

There are no shortage of websites touting the advantages of ebooks over regular print books.  It's a personal choice and opinions vary in expected ways.  When I was in my twenties I loved to get a first edition hard copy of my favourite authors' latest book, carefully wrap it in plastic, and hoped that it would last forever.  If I was really fortunate, I might catch the author on a book tour and snag that cherished autograph as an added bonus for my treasure.  (I remember the shocked look on Carol Shields' face when I approached her at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver many years ago with an armload of her books to sign.) Ah, youth!

Over the years, I have lost this penchant for preserved treasures; the plastic wrap has been removed and all have been unearthed from storage and placed on the bookshelf alongside secondhand paperback versions of the classics.  I retained my love of the printed word, and can not imagine putting a pen or pencil mark in a book - throughout my university days even my textbooks remained in pristine condition as I would place notes and page references in my personal journal, rather than in a book.

As I do not own an ebook reader, not a day goes by without a book in hand at some point.  So would I even use an ereader if I had one?  I think that my reading habits would quickly adapt.  Unprejudiced by a need for the feeling of paper on my fingers, or the desire to hold onto the traditional book experience, I think that I am ready.  I also see many advantages to the ebook experience in my life.

I already spend a lot of time on the computer, and love the convenience of reading in one window, looking up unfamiliar words immediately in another window and checking references using wikipedia and google in another window.  So in many ways my reading habits have evolved to the point where I would not find the experience of reading full novels on a screen unfamiliar.  It should be a fairly painless transition.  I also read numerous books simultaneously - currently I am reading Tom Jones and Emma, though usually I have four or five on the go at once.  Having all of these at my fingertips on one device would be a lot more convenient than searching the house for the location of one that I put down...somewhere.

I also love to travel.  Weight considerations on airlines are always a concern, one that restricts the number of books, especially hard cover books, that can be taken aboard.  I noticed a lot of people this summer while in Mexico reading on iPads and Kindles, on the beach and next to the pool without a problem.  I wouldn't take a computer to Mexico, fearing theft.  I wouldn't even take an iPad, actually for the same reason.  But a cheap ereader, like a kindle or kobo I wouldn't worry about.  It could hold hundreds of books, it's small and light and would easily fit in the in-room safe when not in use.  Best of all, if it did get stolen, I could replace it when I get home and instantly load all of my books back on it, without having to buy the books again.

It's an economical gift too.  Many are around $100, which isn't too bad for a major gift.  The best part is that in subsequent years, gifting ebooks would save my family a lot of money since electronic versions of books are less expensive than printed versions.   The books that I have published, for example, range from free (for "Bees to Benny") to 3.99 - very reasonable for a novel when you think about the cost of printed books.  Most ebook retailers have a "Gift Book" option on the purchase page to facilitate this process. I wouldn't even have to re-buy most of the classics in my library as many of them (from Dickens to Hemingway...) are freely available as ebooks.

The only other consideration is: which ereader?  Amazon offers the Kindle, Chapters and many European stores are affiliated with the Kobo, Barnes and Noble has the Nook, Sony has its own store (I wouldn't get a Sony or a Nook as I found that Canadian authors can not self publish to those stores without using an intermediary like Smashwords).  Then of course there is the cream of the crop, iPad.  All of these offer an excellent, multi-functional reading experience with bookmarking, dictionaries and many other bells and whistles.

My preference, as I said is inexpensive.  That would rule out the iPad, Kindle Fire and Kobo Vox - these are cool, but too elaborate for my needs.  I just want a simple black and white reader that stores lots of books, allows access to lots of books and is easy to use.  So that means an older version of Kobo or Kindle would be great.

I am sure that I will still buy some printed versions of books - spontaneous book store browsing habits can't be unlearned overnight.  But an ereader would be a welcome addition to my electronic arsenal.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Today's Inspiration #5

Today's inspiration: the creativity of script and actor.

The dilemma: how much of a great performance should we attribute to the writing and how much to the acting?  There has to be a balance, of course, no matter if it's a television show, movie or even a simple thirty second commercial.  The perfect confluence between the written word and the actor's interpretation of it create a surprising event: time is frozen as we are captivated by the moment, forget our problems and concerns and we smile, or laugh or cry, appropriately, synchronously.

For example, consider the quirky and creative ads run by Dairy Queen recently DQ - good isn't good enough.  My reaction was instantaneous when the actor stated, "we don't just blow bubbles, we blow bubbles with kittens inside them."  It is hilarious the first time, maybe even the second time.  And you know that you are not laughing alone - it's one of those instant shared experiences.  You know you can mention it to a friend and instantly agree on the quality of the creation.

Obviously, that whole scene works because of the writing.  Contrast that with Tom Hanks performance in the movie Castaway.  The movie is much more than a two hour advertisement for FedEx because of the stellar work of the lead actor.  The character of Wilson (an oscar worthy performance, underplayed by a volleyball) could have died on the page if Hanks didn't make it so engagingly believable.  A great performance, like this one, enhances our interpretation of similar events throughout our lives.  For example, the image of Hanks on the life-raft kept coming to mind as I read the shipwrecked scene in Martel's fabulous "Life of Pi".  The movie version of this story will be out next year, but I suggest you read the novel first.

In the Socialite series of books, I have tried to create characters that enable a similar reinterpretation of everyday experience.  The first book, "Bees to Benny," deals primarily with the ordinary lives of two families.  Although the Socialite series is social SciFi, I have purposely kept the science fiction jargon to a minimum in the first book, to allow the reader to relate with the main themes of "first love," "protective parents", "school rivalries"and of course "the ubiquity of the internet".  The science fiction is subtle at first, building as the reader gets more involved in the whole Socialite story over four books.  I wanted it to mirror our own experience with social networks which tends to be very personal at first, until that day when you get a comment from someone in China or Indonesia - you are suddenly awakened to the fact that very little on the internet is private and even you, sitting alone on a computer at home, may one day post something that has global significance.

While reading the first Socialite book, my teenage son asked me why I chose to write Socialite in a limited third person voice.  I told him, it allows the reader to see more of the action than any one character in the story does, but leaves a lot of the characters' motivations and intentions to the reader's imagination (which might not be the case if the voice was omniscient.)  I think it also more closely resembles our lives, where we only get partial knowledge about a person's intentions and must use intuition and interpretation to fill in the gaps.

In a performance, actors do a lot of this interpretation for the audience - their facial expressions and body language transform the variety of interpretations of a character held by different readers, sometimes limiting the interpretation, at other times broadening it, giving it authenticity.

The combination of a well-written character and a well acted performance inspires me to try harder in my own creative efforts.  What about you?  What performance or literary character affected you so deeply that you felt inspired?